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Conditioning Programmes for the Canine Athlete

Updated: Apr 9

Formalised fitness programmes for the animal athlete are a rarity, especially within the canine community, despite their prevalence within human sport. Although many factors contribute to athletic success, such as nutrition, conformation and mentality, the importance of training is evident and perhaps underutilised within this industry.


The most important benefits of conditioning programmes are:

· Improved performance

· Decreased injury risk

· Decreased injury severity

· Improved recovery


It has been found from studies of agility dogs that training for more than two hours weekly decreases injury risk significantly, opposed to only one hour. Athletic conditioning can also reduce exercise induced muscle damage, aiding recovery after sessions for increased performance. Additional benefits include increasing the longevity of their working career, improved cardiovascular fitness and maintenance of a healthy weight to reduce the loads going through joints.


Strength training is designed to increase the size and strength of muscle for improved maximum power. Whereas endurance training is important for the maintenance of the same level of activity throughout the work by increasing the muscles resistance to fatigue. Furthermore, the dog’s awareness of where its body is and how it is moving can also be improved for increased agility.


Warmups and cool downs are also essential components of athletic sessions. Warmups are essential to improve muscular efficiency through the increased blood flow, therefore oxygen and toxin transport and also flexibility and mobility to decrease chances of muscle strains. Cool downs are recommended to conclude a session to maintain or increase mobility and allow time for injury detection resulting from training.


Physiotherapists can be utilised within the working dog’s training to create a tailored strength and conditioning programme for each dog, taking into account the sport, ability, any previous injuries and a multitude more factors. Even if the dog has a specific training regime already, a physio can offer useful advice which may have not been considered for the success and safety of the animal.





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